We were in Barcelona a few weeks ago for the excellent Mozilla Camp Europe. That was only my second trip to the city, my first being a holiday there in 2001 when I rather ambitiously took with me the complete Michel de Montaigne (over 1,200 pages). Inspired by the recent trip, I felt it was time to revisit Montaigne too, after 7 years.
Michel de Montaigne was a public figure and essayist who, according to my edition, is
the bridge linking the thought of pagan antiquity and of Christian antiquity with our own
To which we might add, he is also very hard to put down – as I had cause to reflect at 2 o’clock this morning. Blaise Pascal said he gained thirty years of study and reflection from reading Montaigne: consider that before picking up the latest Malcolm Gladwell.
What is great about this book is the immediacy of it: the way that Montaigne feels direct, fresh and relevant, even though he was writing over 500 years ago. In one essay, (On the inequality there is between us), he contemplates how inequality in wealth and status can lead us to overlook that which is really important. According to Monaigne, we should be asking the question,
Is he wise, lord of himself, not terrified of death, poverty or shackles? Is he a man who stoutly defies his passions, who scorns ambition? Is he entirely self-sufficient? Is he like a smooth round sphere which no foreign object can adhere to and which maims Fortune herself if she attacks him?
That kind of man is miles above kingdoms and dukedoms. He is an empire unto himself.
Compare with him the mass of men nowadays, senseless, base, servile, unstable, continually bobbing about in a storm of conflicting passions which drive them which drive them hither and thither, men totally dependent upon others: they are farther apart than earth and sky. But so blind are our habitual ways that we take little or no account of such things, when we come to consider a peasant or a monarch, a nobleman or a commoner, a statesman or a private citizen, a rich man or a poor man, we find therefore an immense disparity beween men who, it could be said, differ only by their breeches.
And in conclusion he writes:
Each man’s morals shape his destiny.
Tonight Liverpool host Olypique Marseille in Champions League Group D, while Chelsea travel to Girondins Bordeaux in Group A.